Thursday, April 09, 2020

Free School Dinners Delays

Many families whose children are eligible for free school meals, a national voucher scheme to ensure that children from the poorest families continue to receive free meals while schools are closed during the Covid-19 crisis, have not received supermarket vouchers as promised by the government because of delays in the system, school leaders say.

Many schools have since complained that Edenred, the provider selected by government to supply the vouchers, does not have the capacity to deal with the demand, which was exacerbated last weekend when the former education secretary, Michael Gove, unexpectedly announced that the scheme would be extended over Easter. Although the extension was widely welcomed, there was criticism from schools, who had been given no warning and had already broken up for the Easter holidays.
“We are at risk of not being able to feed these vulnerable children,” said Stephen Morales, chief executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL). “Emotions are high. People are tired. Families are desperate. These things need to work.”

“The problem is very widespread,” said Matthew Clements-Wheeler, director of support services at Bordesley Green girls’ school in Birmingham and chair of trustees at ISBL.

“It’s worrying our parents. They are having to ring up every day to ask, ‘Where are our vouchers?’ We are just having to say we’ve done what we can at school level. It’s just a case of waiting. We are not properly serving some of the poorest families in the country."
To secure vouchers, schools have to upload data on children who are eligible for free school meals. A code is then sent or emailed to parents, who can convert it into a weekly £15 voucher for each child, to be spent in the supermarket of their choice. Many are still awaiting their codes.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Many members are having real difficulties accessing the vouchers through the national scheme. It is imperative that the DfE work closely with the supplier in question to address this matter swiftly.”

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